Part review, part study in retro-gaming bliss.
I look at Todd Holcomb’s personal Intellivision Flashback project, now available for the masses.
If you have been around for my original review of the Intellivision Flashback, you’ll remember that I was a little underwhelmed with the unit. So much potential, marred by nagging glitches, odd design choices, and poor play-testing. The Flashback, while very well-intentioned, was ultimately a toy. it WAS made by a toy company, after all (AtGames). Fun for a quick look, or to surprise an old game aficionado during the holidays. But for a true retro-gamer, especially someone like myself who bought an Intellivision II new off-the-shelf at a local Musicland (remember those?), it simply doesn’t hold up next to the real thing.
So why do I now scream from the highest heights, “Run out and buy an Intellivision Flashback?”
Because you should buy one, and then send it to Todd Holcomb. He’s going to gut it, put in a Raspberry Pi computer, plus a few other separate purchases and downloads, and send you back a game machine that can perfectly emulate any Intellivision game you throw at it (however, he’s only going to install the games originally included on the Flashback – He doesn’t want to upset anyone – I’ll have more on that later.) It will use the very nice controllers included with your Flashback, as well as the original power supply. Clean, simple, and incredibly tiny.
The inside, however, will be a Pi running Emulation Station, and using the amazing JZINTV emulator by Joe Zbiciak. Attached to the Pi in the case is the equally amazing Ultimate PC Interface, allowing you to connect the provided Intellivision Flashback controllers to the Pi nestled inside the case. There’s a beautiful menu already set up, and you don’t have to lift a finger to initialize or set-up or tell the thing what keys should do what – just like the concept of the Flashback itself, what you will get is totally plug-and-play. In fact, due to the Pi’s native modern video connections, you can hook it directly to your HDTV – no more fiddling with ancient video connections and blurry pictures. Throw your old “Retro” television out the window – it no longer needs to take up space in your man cave.
Take a quick look at the inside of my Ultimate Flashback. Todd put a ton of work into this thing to figure it all out – and now he has it down to a science. After he received my Flashback core unit, I had it back at my house in a week. Now, he’s just one guy, so your milage may differ – but Todd’s communication was stellar – I’m sure if he’s got a backlog of them to do, He’ll let you know before you even send it.
This link will give you Todd’s story – like many others, he had a dream – to somehow take that cute little Flashback, and make it into exactly what collectors were hoping it would be – picture-perfect emulation of the original Intellivision, right down to the controllers and the IntelliVoice conversation. After I tinkered with it a bit, I’ve added a few more games that I enjoy, along with a wireless keyboard (Todd includes a USB port in the back) and can now re-live my days of playing the Entertainment Computer System add-on games – All four of them. If I still had my Music Synthesizer (the fancy name for the Music Keyboard add-on) – I could possibly even play Melody Blaster, the only music cartridge that made it into production before the great Video Game Crash – Not that I would really want to, but I could.
Todd ran into a few snags while putting together his project – Certain things simply didn’t quite want to work the way he had envisioned – The Ultimate PC Interface, mentioned above, assumed that you were using a computer with a keyboard for your emulation – and Todd didn’t want to attach a keyboard to do simple things like reset the current game, or get back to the list of available games. Also, the Raspberry Pi runs the Linux operating system, and the Linux version of the JZINTV emulator didn’t recognize the Ultimate PC Interface, which would make the Flashback controllers dead as doornails – causing his dream to fall a bit short of his goal.
So, what’s a fella to do? Simply go to the retro-gaming community and ask them, of course.
Here’s the deal – the retro-video game community is a great group of people. They are not just people selling old gaming stuff to a bunch of geeks – but home-brew hackers, electronic tinkerers, historians and amazing cheering sections for others who want to pick up and preserve a piece of gaming history. Or, yes, even emulate some of that history. This, however, is not a story about the pros, cons and legality of emulation (that’s a topic for another day). This is about Todd – who simply wanted to have an Intellivision that he could hook up to his new TV. One that he could play a game on without digging the cartridges out of the closet. Something simple, that allowed him to get his Intellivision fix without setting up all the ancient hardware, and tuning to channel 3 (4 on the east coast). It was a cool project, And something that the community enjoyed watching, offering their two-cents, and asking questions so they could gather up the parts and do it themselves, as well.
That community responded by helping Todd make things work. Joe Zbiciak updated the Linux version of the JZINTV emulator, so it could use the Ultimate PC Interface. David Harley updated his Ultimate Interface firmware to allow pausing, resetting and quitting a game from the Intellivision keypad – getting rid of the need for an external keyboard. While David was at at, he also created step by step instructions to set up his emulator on a Pi, for those who wish to dig in and do it themselves. Soon, with a little help from his new-found friends, Todd had what he wanted. Now, we can all benefit from his journey.
Todd’s own work goes beyond just soldering the parts together, but installing all the software ahead of time, and pre-setting all of the controller options, so you can start scrolling through a list of games and choose something to play as soon as you turn the Ultimate Flashback on. He’s also included an instruction manual, not only of the operation of the Ultimate Flashback, but how to install your own ROMS and to further tailor the system to suit your own needs.
As I mentioned earlier, Todd only has the games included on the Intellivision Flashback installed on his Ultimate Flashback, plus a few free home-brew games. That’s only fair to Intellivision Productions and AtGames, the partnership that has created the original Flashback. Here’s that famous disclaimer that travels with all emulation software, distilled to it’s minimalistic essence: Use ROMS if you own them, don’t if you don’t. For me, this was easy – I owned everything but 12 games ever created for the Intellivision – and I didn’t want to play those 12 other games, anyway. They sucked.
Technically, this is a DIY project, and you can get all of the information at the links I have provided above to jump in and feel the satisfaction of making this on your own. BUT, the Pi and components will cost you around $120 US, not to mention the time factor of trial and error while putting it all together – Todd will order all the parts and put it all in the Intellivision Flashback that you provide for a service fee of $149. For thirty extra bucks, you can simply sit back and enjoy some classic Intellivision. I say DO IT – I did, and haven’t regretted the decision. My Intellivision II is now safely tucked away in the closet. In a box. In the dark. IT might be a bit lonely, but I still have the spirit of classic Intellivision gaming right on my shelf, attached to the TV via an HDMI cable. It takes me only a moment to fire it up and play around for a bit, reliving my glorious gaming past, all without having to swap cartridges, or hook up all the extra “stuff” to show friends why Mind Strike is still a great game. And it IS – I swear.
- Once again, Here’s Todd’s original Thread on the Intellivision boards on AtariAge, chronicling the journey.
- And, Here’s the Official page listing out all the included bits, as well as contact info and mailing instructions.
- Lastly, ColecoVision fans: Did you know Todd has also created an Ultimate ColecoVision Flashback? Here’s THAT link.
- Finally, here is the link to pick up your own Intellivision Flashback for this project, directly from Intellivision Productions. You can also check Amazon, Toys R Us, eBay, and all the other usual suspects.
What I like about this project, is that it’s a win-win: Some may scoff at the emulation aspect, and may cry foul or swear that someone’s livelihood has been hampered – yet the only way to enjoy Todd’s version of this Flashback is to actually buy your own Intellivision Flashback and hack it. Intellivision Productions and AtGames get their money, and you get the beautiful presentation and picture-perfect game play, which outclasses the original Intellivision Flashback, all in that cute, Intellivision-styled box.
But I say skip the hacking yourself. Instead, invest the extra few bucks and send it on over to Todd to “pimp out” – He’s already got it mastered. You’ll receive a plug-and-play masterpiece, and an example of the retro-gaming community rising to the challenge to help make it all work. The Ultimate Flashback is what the original Intellivision Flashback should have been. It’s a positive addition to the gaming and emulation community, and a great way to capture a piece of history for a new generation.
In fact, in the spirit of that community, Here are my own contributions to owners of Todd’s Ultimate Intellivision Flashback:
Click either of the images to download your own copy of the Ultimate Intellivision Flashback overlays! [Right-Click and “download linked file”.] Available in two versions: “Classic Mattel” and “Total Retro”, these rather superfluous items perfectly diagram the Ultimate Flashback’s main menu and in-game key combinations, and will look lovely in your current stack of Intellivision overlays. No, you don’t really need them, but darn it, they’re cool. And, like the Ultimate Flashback itself, they’re Plug-and-Play. The attached PDFs are pre-sized for the Intellivision controller, all you have to do is print and enjoy!
And, you know, if anyone in the community is really great at printing these things, I wouldn’t mind a couple of actual back-coated plastic ones… =)